THE ZIMBABWE Council of Churches (ZCC) is urging the international community to ‘accompany’ the newly elected government and churches to ‘enrich’ the institutions and ‘mature’ Zimbabwe’s democracy.
In their pastoral statement following the civil unrest sparked by the nation’s first presidential election since the resignation of Robert Mugabe last year, the ZCC said they are pleading with the international community not to ‘continue the isolation of Zimbabwe on the basis of shortcomings of this election’.
“You are fully aware that the punitive measures on the new government will not affect those in leadership but the ordinary Zimbabweans. We believe that it is in the opportunities for Zimbabweans’ access to health care, education and basic social services that the nation will flourish and grow a robust democracy,” they added.
Christian Aid is among those calling for peace in Zimbabwe as post-electoral violence remains a critical concern in Harare.
Clashes arose between supporters of opposition party, MDC Alliance, and military forces after parliamentary results gave victory to the ruling Zanu-PF party, formerly led by Robert Mugabe. These resulted in three people being shot dead by the army and a number of people beaten and harassed.
Christian Aid said that the opposition believes that Zanu-PF has ‘rigged’ the election. They added that European Union observers had already expressed doubts over the conduct of the presidential and parliamentary vote citing that an ‘un-level playing field, intimidation of voters and lack of trust in the process undermined the pre-election environment’.
Grainne Kilcullen, Governance and Human Rights Adviser at Christian Aid, said: “We urge Zimbabwe’s political representatives to show leadership at this critical time by calling for calm and a cessation of violent clashes, before more bloodshed takes place.
“These elections are a historic opportunity for Zimbabwe to turn a new corner towards a political system that respects the democratic process, offers hope to its citizens and promotes economic growth to pull the country out of poverty.
“Yet, although these elections are the first in the post-Mugabe era, there have been widespread concerns about the electoral process and vote rigging.
“We are strongly urging all sides to place the future of Zimbabwe and a respect for democracy at the centre of their actions, as the credibility of this election hangs in the balance.
“It is critical that election results are released as soon as possible with a transparent and accountable process to avoid any further escalations of tensions.”
The ZCC, a fellowship of Christian Churches from Zimbabwe, said that the announcement of official results by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) marked the end of a ‘critical stage’ in what had been ‘a highly contested and emotive electoral process’.
They said that throughout the process the church mobilised millions of its members to participate in a prayerful, informed and peaceful manner.
Mr Mnangagwa from Zanu-PF won the Presidential election with 50.8 per cent of votes, compared to 44.3 per cent for opposition leader Nelson Chamisa from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC Alliance). However, the opposition are now contending the result.
The ZCC said that several factors brought about ‘the sense that the electoral results would inevitably be contested’.
These included ‘the enduring perception that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) was not fully independent; ‘the sense that the electoral playing field remains uneven whilst favouring incumbents’, and ‘the existing deep national polarisation across political, tribal, gender, class and other distinctions’.
The ZCC said that they echo the technical conclusions by the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network that “ZEC announced official results are consistent with the Sample Based Observation projections”.
The ZCC said they also echoZimbabwe Election Support Network’s calls for ZEC to urgently release the polling level results for all elections on its website, including the Presidential election, for transparency and accountability.
The ZCC said they are praying that the MDC Alliance objections ‘will be expressed in a peaceful and legal manner’.
“From the announced results we note with deep concern that our nation is deeply divided. The deepening polarisation between urban and rural voters, younger and older voters, as well as richer and poorer voters requires urgent redress through a holistic process of nation building and envisioning.
“The cry of different sectors of our population requires both a pastoral and prophetic response,” they added.
In a message to the leaders of Zanu-PF, they called for them to ‘create avenues for inclusive dialogue’.
“The nation needs you to commit to a nation-building dialogue process aimed at uniting the nation and creating an inclusive way forward.”
They asked the party to consider and prioritise a formal constitutional recognition for the leader of the main opposition consistent with practices in other developed democracies.
They said that ‘there will be a need for a major revisiting of the electoral laws so as to restore the integrity of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’.
The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Rev Christopher Chessun, has asked ‘everyone to join him in praying for a return to peace in the country and for the safety and security of people, especially in the capital, Harare’.
“Please pray especially for the Bishops in Zimbabwe and for all church leaders there; for safety and security for them and their priests and people. Pray too that they may be able to work with others to restore peace on the streets and in the country as a whole,” he added.